As I approach this Thanksgiving, I think back to this time almost eight years ago, shortly before Jonathan came into our lives and how much differently I feel today compared to how I felt then. Back then, self-pity was the overriding emotion. Today, it’s gratitude.
Flashback to Thanksgiving weekend, 2002. It is Sunday, December 1st and Phil is in the kitchen making spaghetti. (Why he wasn’t preparing turkey leftovers is anyone’s guess – maybe we were sick of them by then – who knows? I was just glad he was cooking and not me.) I’m sitting on the lazy boy in the living room as big as a whale and with a big, bad attitude to match. I’m scheduled to be induced nine days later and I am still feeling very shaky about this baby. I know the baby has Down syndrome and several holes in its heart. I’m tired and scared and don’t know if I’m up for this. I know I have to go back to work the next day and continue to put on a happy face on the evening news. I’m still asking over and over again, “why me?”
I interrupt the pity party to flip on the TV, ready to distract myself with the then usual Sunday ritual in our house of watching 60 Minutes. Phil has the TV on in the kitchen as well, also ready to tune into Morley and Lesley and the rest of the 60 Minutes gang. But as I turn on the remote, it’s not 60 Minutes that comes on – it’s Dateline NBC, a show I’ve never watched. And as soon as it comes on, I can’t turn away. They are doing an entire hour on a Boston couple who is wrestling with the decision of whether or not to abort their baby, who has Down syndrome and several holes in her heart.
I yell to Phil, “Change the channel to NBC! There’s a show about Down syndrome! We have to watch this!” For the next hour, I am mesmerized. Although the couple is seriously considering abortion and we never did, they are still playing with the same deck of cards we were dealt. And thankfully, they also chose to have their baby. And thankfully, for me, I was able to see this child as this one hour news piece evolved, as a toddler, not a tragedy.
The story portrayed the couple’s pregnancy, decision, delivery, heart surgery and beyond. And so, there was this beautiful, happy three year old girl on the screen in my living room – thriving, in a mainstream preschool class, her heart surgery long behind her, living a wonderful life. And there were her parents, clearly grateful that they chose not to end her life. In fact, like all parents, not able to even imagine what life would be like without her.
And so, sixty minutes in front of the television helped erase almost 20 weeks of self-doubt. (20 weeks into my pregnancy an ultrasound first tipped us off that the baby definitely had a major heart defect and likely Down syndrome. Two weeks later that was confirmed in an amino.) I thank God that I saw that show that night. Not that I ever regretted or questioned our decision to have this baby. Don’t misunderstand. It was the not knowing what to expect when our baby got here that was gnawing at me. (Somehow “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” just wasn’t cutting it this time.) How would this baby affect our lives? Was I going to be able to be a good mother to this baby? Was I going to be resentful? After all, I’m thinking, I’m being robbed of the “perfect” baby that I had signed up for – certainly not this one.
I’m not proud of those thoughts and feelings, but they were there – raw and painful and almost constant. But the NBC show helped put things into perspective and gave me a realistic picture of Down syndrome, not the stereotype that up until then, I, and unfortunately, most people without any firsthand knowledge, buy into. It helped to confirm my belief that Phil and I had made the right choice. But it also gave me confidence that this baby was going to be fine – in fact, there was no reason to doubt that this baby was going to be great.
I now believe God put me in front of that television set that night watching my favorite show’s competition for a reason – to give me comfort and to prepare me for what was coming. And it came – very soon after that. Instead of being induced nine days later, Jonathan had other plans and decided he was ready to come into the world, without being induced, four days later.
Thanks to Dateline NBC, I was able to welcome the birth of my baby, instead of dreading it. And now, as we head into this Thanksgiving weekend, eight years after the Thanksgiving weekend that began with worry and self-pity, I am thankful that I have a wonderful son, who is bright and funny and loving and sometimes naughty. And that I would love him no matter what. And that Down syndrome is just a small part of the incredible human being he has become.
*In case you are wondering, the Dateline NBC program profiled Greg and Tierney Fairchild, who are the parents of Naia. Their story was first shared in a series of articles in the Boston Globe looking into the many issues raised by prenatal testing. It eventually became a book. The series can be found here and the book is Choosing Naia.
Update: You can read the first 30 pages of Choosing Naia here.